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Fear cripples Bengaluru into submission

Anil Budur Lulla
14th Sep 2016
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A day after violence spiralled out of control, most infotech parks in Bengaluru prominently stood out for two things: `Closed’ was a common signboard at the gates and their large glass windows were dressed up with yellow and red depicting the Karnataka flag, a symbolic message of brotherhood to would-be protestors.

The fear of an attack on their premises brought the top global startup city to a complete standstill from Whitefield to Bellandur and ITeS hotspots on Hosur Road, Sarjapur Road, Bannerghatta Road and Hebbal even as most residents locked themselves in.

bengaluru fear

On Monday, they were driven out of offices and hurried home on foot, hitching rides or driving themselves. The following day, a red-faced state government and its police force encouraged law-abiding residents to stay indoors as curfew was imposed in several police station areas and blanket prohibitory orders were imposed across the city. This will continue till Wednesday night.

City shutters down

The police got an opportunity to identify and round up the culprits involved in the mindless violence, but except for brave Muslims attending Eid prayers, there was not much activity on the city’s roads. It also helped that the Eid holiday was on Tuesday. But, the mood in the city was far from festive as small businesses, restaurants, kirana stores, corner bakeries and even petty shops were shut down completely out of fear.

While educational institutions have been ordered shut on Wednesday due to a bandh call — which is still not clear — several events planned in the city have been cancelled. Even a press conference that was planned weeks in advance by OnMobile Global for September 14 has been postponed.

onmobile invite

Jaby Jacob, who runs a bakery in Indiranagar said he would not attempt to open his shop for the next few days till things returned to normal. He had just made a quick trip on his TVS 50 moped to check if the bakery’s locks were still in place. “I don’t want to make enemies here. I came to see if the shutters had been vandalised as I heard there were disturbances in some parts of the city,” he said rather apologetically.

It is people like Jacob who have been providing sustenance to the largely migratory population that Bengaluru has become home to in the last decade-and-a-half.

Dialling to get no response

Though officially there was curfew only in parts of the city affected by Monday’s large-scale violence, Bengalureans preferred to stay home. It was a day when none of the services on call were working, be it grocery deliveries, food joints, cabs, or even entertainment.

Many travellers made it a point to reach KIA, the city’s international airport on its outskirts, last night for flights they had to catch today.

With only a small percentage of airport cabs willing to operate, arriving air passengers were at their wit’s end. Suresh Selvakumar, who landed this morning from Munich, said there were hardly any cabs and BMTC had cancelled the airport bus services.

He said:

KIA officials were trying their best to accommodate those going in the same direction and put as many passengers as possible into a single cab. It was a cramped ride but at least I got to reach my hotel on MG Road.

BMTC buses were also off city roads till late evening while metro services remained suspended. Autorickshaws too started appearing only towards dusk.

Writ of fear

Most businesses in the city were shut largely because of the fear of hooligans and the failure of the state to provide security.

Earlier this morning, miscreants did try to create trouble in some areas of the city but the police were quicker to respond today. Accompanied by central paramilitary forces, they were able to react and reach the troubled spots faster. In a replay of last evening’s violence, a group of protestors returned to Mysore Road to complete their unfinished job of completely setting alight the SRS Travels bus they had succeeded in burning only partially last night.

Anitha Krishna, who recently visited Jammu and Kashmir with her family, said she was shocked to see riot-proof police vehicles painted in desert camouflage colours rumble past her home this morning. She said, “It is scary to see such vehicles in Bengaluru, which is normally a very peaceful city,” and recalled that in Srinagar and elsewhere in trouble-torn Kashmir, such vehicles with their peculiar shape and peepholes for windows were a common sight.

Today, Bengaluru also had something else in common with Kashmir: denizens celebrating Eid in both places did so under the shadow of curfew.

No biryani this Eid

Bengaluru is also known for embracing cuisines from elsewhere. Biryani joint owners were an unhappy lot today as they had made extra arrangements anticipating huge orders on Eid day.

An upset Abu chacha who owns an Ambur biryani joint in Domlur said:

I had already prepared my kitchen to serve 500 plates of mutton, chicken, and egg biryani yesterday itself. But, today’s uncertainty has hit small hoteliers like me hard as 500 plates is normally a full week’s order. I am forced to close my shop and what will I do with all this fresh meat?

Ambur biryani is a native Tamil Nadu way of preparing biryani whose flavour is giving competition to Hyderabadi biryani joints which are more expensive. These eateries too had a bad day and had downed shutters. “I have closed all three restaurants of mine in north Bengaluru. I have just made a huge investment opening the third restaurant and I will go under complete loss in case something bad happens,” said Rami Reddy, who otherwise dares patrons to try his fiery Andhra dishes.

The police went door to door in some areas and pulled out young men on suspicion of having participated in yesterday’s mayhem. They are also examining video footage of the last 24 hours and have asked the public to send pictures and videos of incidents they may have photographed.

By evening, 350 miscreants were taken into custody for indulging in vandalism, police said.

Appeals for calm

Yesterday’s craziness was captured very well in a local language daily which carried the photograph of a miscreant posing for a selfie along with his work — a truck that he had set fire to.

Film actors who appealed for peace included Prakash Raj, a popular Tamil star with roots in Karnataka. They asked their fans to remain calm and not to indulge in violence.

Karnataka’s Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reiterated that as all political parties in the state were consulted before releasing Cauvery water, they would all be held equally responsible if their cadre indulged in any form of rioting. However, he failed to recognise that it was pro-language activists belonging to different outfits who unleashed the terror upon the city.

Social media posted messages critical of 24/7 television news channels for fanning the violence. Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu sent an advisory to the media, particularly TV channels, to exercise restraint in their choice of words and visuals while covering the Cauvery river water crisis between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

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